Where is God?
Updated: Jul 27
Why did daddy have to die?
I was recently asked how I would respond to a young teenager who asked, 'why did daddy have to die so soon?' It was as if, hooked to the past, I was reeled back in time by my memory to when I actually had to answer that question for someone who I dearly love and care about. I could not answer the question well then, I am not sure if I can do any better now, but I must try.
I remember clearly the day when my nephew, a young teen then, asked, ‘why did daddy have to die’? My brother-in-law, Jacob, had just died of cancer. He was 49; we were close. I was in Bible School studying Theology at that time. I knew that because Jesus died and rose again from the dead, death is not the end.
Eternal separation is not the eternal destiny for those who put their faith in Jesus.
Those who knew Jacob knew that he believed in Jesus and loved Him with all his heart, mind, soul and strength. And I was well acquainted with what to say. Yet, discussing his death was hard, it still is. At times it seems as if all we do is grapple with pointless words, especially because his death was an untimely one and God did not help.
A decade-and-a-half later my father died. He had lived a full life, and I am not a teenager; but the pain of separation was just as severe, if not more. It seems to me that humans are not designed to live with the pain of separation or the notion of perpetual isolation.
Where is God?
Pain makes suffering tangible, and the loss of a loved one makes the problem of pain personal.
We ask where is God when things fall out of gear not just because we are wrestling with the idea of pain and loss, we experience it. Pain makes suffering tangible, and personal. This is why questions about God’s absence or the lack of divine intervention are never in short supply. At some point we all have asked, ‘why did this happen’ and, ‘where is god’? It is just that some have a tendency to ask them louder and for longer.
The tangible and personal nature of suffering shatters our dreams and snuffs out hope. And that remains true irrespective of whether it is caused by the loss of a loved one, or the inability to control what is happening to us or around us. And, just as it seems pointless to talk about the better days that lie ahead when one is in the grip of pain of loss, so too is 'God talk' when God seems distant and our circumstance seem unchanging. It is the kind of talk that leaves many numb with grief, leaving the person helpless, hopeless, lost and alone.
Life in the valley has a way of making God’s promises seem pointless and we find ourselves asking, 'How long, O Lord?' or even, 'Where are you God?'
In pain, we look for more than information. Answers will not do. We are looking for an answerer, a hand to take hold of us and help us through. We do this because the weight of our unanswered, irreconcilable questions weighs us down differently at different times. And so as we grapple with our new reality, truthfully, we are desperate for a conversation with God, not just information about him. And, it makes a world of a difference when we are open to having that conversation with Jesus. But, why Jesus?
But, Why Jesus?
Jesus, more than anyone else, offers us what we desperately need — a listening ear and hand to hold.
Let me explain. Jesus is no stranger to pain. Unlike us, or others we know, who try to avoid being hurt if we could help it, Jesus chose to embrace our pain as his so that we could come to him with our grief and sorrow and let him help us with it. And his help comes to us as a chord of three strands.
One, he helps us see why he lets death win, for now.
Two, he assures us that the victory of death will be short-lived.
Three, he calls us to learn from him so he could help us live today in the light of forever.
Death must win, for now.
How would you feel when, while we were playing football and you were about score a goal, I took the ball and ran?
Now, how would you feel if the referee, who was supposed to right this horrible act, just let us continue playing the game without calling me to account for my foul-play?
Death, in one sense is the referee blowing his whistle to stop the game — a foul has been committed and it must be accounted for. Even if it was no fault of yours.
God created us free, and full of life. Death was not part of God’s created order for us. The bible teaches us that death is our due because of sin. For God to overrule death will be like asking us to play football without rules. It will make the game unplayable. Jesus had the power to raise people from the dead, but he did not use that to keep one of his closest friends, Lazarus, from dying. What’s more he did not use it to keep himself from being put to death — nailed to a cross.
Death must win, for now, but it will not emerge victorious in the end.
Death will not win in the end.
Jesus let Lazarus die, but he did not let him stay dead. Death might wave its victory flag, but Jesus assures us that death’s victory will be short lived. In John 11 we read that Jesus went to where Lazarus’ body was buried and called, ‘Lazarus come out’, and Lazarus came back to life. Yet that is not why we have hope. What is the point of coming back to life if you are going to die again? Lazarus died again.
Our hope is not in that Lazarus came back to life, but in that Jesus lives.
Jesus embraced our death. It was our sin, hence death is rightfully ours to 'live' with. But Jesus embraced our death as his so that we could receive the gift of life as we receive him. Yes, the wages of sin is death, but the gift of life is ours because of what Jesus did for us on the cross and rose from the dead to assure us that death will not win in the end (Romans 3 - 5). Jesus’ death and resurrection does not matter just because I believe it. I can believe anything I want. It matters because it is true, and it matters to anyone who is weighed down by the loss of a loved one or a horrible existence and are facing the prospect of a terrible future, because Jesus said, ‘because I live you shall live as well’ (John 14).
Jesus offers us the gift of life, forever, now.
Jesus does not abandon us to live on our own, nor does he impose his ways on us.
He knows we need help. He also knows that unless we come to him willing to be helped, his offer to help will be no help at all.
So he invites us to choose to live our lives on his terms. That is love. He understands our pain better than we do because he embraced all of it, all at once. He tasted death and rose victoriously to show us that there is more to life that death and in learning from him we too, like him, can live today in the light of forever.
This does not mean that our pain will vanish, or that the scars will disappear. They won’t, but as one of Jesus’ followers, Paul, concluded, ‘we do not lose heart. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Our deepest questions demands more than mere explanations, no matter how profound, or useful it is. Our hearts long for someone to show us that these explanations are true; that they work.
Jesus, by his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead offers us just that.
Now, he continues to be available to everyone through his body, the Church. This is why anyone who suffers need not suffer alone, or without hope. They can place their hands into the hands of the one who loves them enough to die for them and rose from the dead to build a community that will help the broken find hope and help right here, right now.
Life in the valley has a way of making God’s promises appear pointless. However, as we trust him and let our deepest fears be met by his grand assurances we will find him faithful.